MERCED -- Charlotte Sofranek and Qixuan "Frank" Zhang are in some pretty exclusive company.
The two Merced High School seniors have been named Commended Students in the 2013 National Merit Scholarship Program.
They are among 34,000 American students, the top 5 percent of more than 1.5 million who took the 2011 Preliminary SAT-National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.
Merced High Principal John Olson said this is the first time in the four years he has been at the school that two students did that well.
"I am really proud of them," Olson said. "This is not very common. Both students are incredible. Frank excels in the (Academic) Decathlon and Charlotte is our number one tennis player. She's got a bright future."
Frank, 17, the son of Zizhong and Yulan Zhang, has a 4.58 grade-point average and hopes to attend an East Coast college or one of the University of California campuses. He wants to major in business administration and concentrate on investments or possibly start his own business.
"My parents definitely are my biggest influence," Frank said. "As a first-generation immigrant, I had to confront language, culture and social customs obstacles. I'm grateful for the students, teachers and staff who helped me."
Charlotte, 17, also credited her parents' influence and said she was raised to do her best in school.
"My parents have always been supportive," Charlotte said. "They have never been harsh on me. My friends are very studious, and they care about their grades and their future."
Frank was born in Beijing and came to the United States seven years ago, knowing no English. He said it took a year or two to assimilate to American culture.
Charlotte has a 4.36 GPA and has been at Merced High all four years. She credits her personal success to the goals she set for herself and the resolve to do the best she can. The school environment at Merced High is very encouraging, she adds.
The daughter of James and Andrea Sofranek, Charlotte hopes to attend a four-year university, ideally UC Berkeley or UCLA. She wants to concentrate on chemistry or biology, but the social sciences are also a possibility. As for career, she's not sure where she is heading.
"There are so many things you can do with the sciences, and there are new discoveries every day," Charlotte said. "My advice to others is to apply yourself if you want to succeed and just try your best. Surround yourself with positive influences."
Butch Seifert, associate principal for student support, said the staff and other students are very proud of the recognition the pair's academic honors bring to the school.
"They're very deserving of this recognition," Seifert said. "They are great examples of the school's motto: Home of Scholars and Champions."
Frank, the top scorer in last year's county Academic Decathlon, said it takes months of study, from summer through March, to prepare for the decathlons. His advice to others is to study hard and seek help if it's needed.
Frank said he spent a month preparing for the National Merit Scholarship test, acknowledging that it was very challenging.
Charlotte and Frank aren't through with tests yet -- this weekend the SAT exams will be administered locally.
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.